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North from Venice
A Perfect Escape


Professor Arnie Greenberg

Venice is a world unto itself. There is no city like it in the world. It is one city that demands an article unto itself. Lets move on.

There is something magical about walking to the train station in Venice at 6 AM. Old women whisk away the night’s debris, delivery barges emerge from the mist and the pigeons react to the first sounds. In the station, hot coffee is just the thing even if we’re only going one long stop to the mainland village of Mestre. Here in a sun-baked parking lot our car awaits. We’re heading into lush green hills that rise all too soon into one of the most awesome ranges of snow capped mountains I have ever seen. The journey from here is through the town of Morostica, Asolo, Vittorio Veneto, Belluno medieval Cortina d’Appezzo, Bolzano, Merano, tiny Dorf in the Tyrol Mountains and through the great Brenner Pass to Innsbruck, Austria. It is an adventure that will stay with you forever. Don’t take my word for it. Get out and do it yourself.

You can head north out of Mestre or do as I suggest and return to Padua to see anything you may have missed. Padua is a visual and historical city with excellent restaurants. It’s only 20 KM from Mestre but it puts you on the autostrada heading west. When you get to Vicenza only 30 KM away, take time to visit the Basilica Palladiana, a World Heritage site and Villa Almerico Capra di Valmarana, named La Rotonda, where the architecture is special.

Then head north on route S 47 to the historical walled town of Marostica, built on the side of a sloping hill. This Medieval city may turn out to be the discovery of your trip. It is here that on every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday in September of every even year that a human chess game is played out in the walled city’s main square. It is called “human” since real people and horses make up the chess pieces. They are dressed as Queen’s knights, castles and kings. Here, in The City of Chess, the reward is traditionally the hand of a beautiful maiden. Hundreds fill the stands for one of the most colorful spectacles in Europe. But you’ll have to wait until next year.

There are many places to stay but book ahead. I recommend B&B Locanda Valbella overlooking the Po Valley. .It boasts a view from the huge porch and rooms with beamed ceilings.

I first went to the area on the suggestion of a friend who was born in Asolo. This ‘Pearl of Traviso Province’ is one of those peaceful, picturesque town one dreams about. It is a welcoming oasis you will want to linger in, with wonderful villas, gardens & plants in a spectacular setting dating back to Roman times as one of the first fortified towns. There are decorated facades on palaces such as Eleanor Duse’s palace, Longobard House, built in the 16th century. There is a fountain fed by a Roman Aqueduct and a specially decorated fresco at Villa Pasini.

I remember the special hour we spent sitting on the main square, lunching with the locals and the ceramic purchases we made in one of the artisan shops nearby. Asolo is the place of seclusion, dreams are made of and when we headed north, more dreams came true.

We spent an uneventful night in a small hotel in Vittorio Veneto, just north of the Piave River. This area was a great battle scene during WWI where American ambulance drivers toiled for the cause. It was on the Piave that Ernest Hemingway was wounded. Stop for lunch in Vittorio Veneto, and then move on towards a city that looks down on the Piave Valley.  The blue sky and welcoming mountains make Belluno, The Shining City, dedicated to Beleno, the Celtic god of the Sun. The city is surrounded by fresh sparkling waters that are protected by the city. This is a city rich in Art and History and filled with skiers in season. There are about 30 Km of ski slopes in this Dolomite Mountain region. There is also a 32,000 hectare National Park for visitors to enjoy.

Back on the main road heading north, the vistas become awe-inspiring. The villages lie in the shadows of mammoth rock faces, some covered with snow all year round. As you approach Cortina d’Ampezzo you realize why this would be the perfect place for the winter games. It is an overwhelming site and even in the summer, the sunsets are something to tell your children about. The jagged rocks look down on flowered meadows and the town itself is a Mecca for visitors. There are pedestrian streets, excellent places to eat or sleep at every price. Even non-skiers come here to hike, climb, and paint or just breathe in the fresh scented air. It was for climbing that the first visitors came here.

If you can pull yourself away, you have two choices. You can continue north

Until the road divides and then west to hook up with the main route to Austria. But I suggest that when you reach the autostrada, you turn south for about 50 KM and visit Bolzano. It’s the fastest route and the scenery is beyond belief. Bolzano is made up of Germans, Italians and people of Tyrolean heritage. Here, the signs are in both Italian and Germen. Bolzano is Bozen, Merano to the north is Meran. Either is correct.

Bolzano was once an uninhabited swamp but it was turned into an industrial center by the Fascisti. Now it is filled with historical monuments and boasts a great Gothic Duomo. Under 30Km to the north is the scenic city of Merano set in a peaceful valley. But the imposing mountains that encircle it rise above the tree line and offers Merano protection. It was to Merano that the ancient Dukes of Innsbruck moved the civic mint. Yes, this was once Austrian territory but is now part of Italy. Hence the different spelling. This is a city with a cultural feel. The theatre was dedicated to Puccini. The waters were proven healthy for therapy the Liberty-style buildings are some of the best in the entire Tyrol.

In the Tyrolean mountains above Merano there are tiny hamlets, one of which is called Dorf. I was fortunate enough to spend the better part of a week here by invitation to Schloss Brunnenberg, the home of Dr. Siegfried de Rachewiltz whose wife is the daughter of the American poet, Ezra Pound. The address is 3, Ezra Pound Weg (Way) It is now an Agricultural Museum. It was a joy to walk around the chateau, eat on the ramparts and lecture on Pound in the great keep.

From there, and from the tiny hotel next door, we could see the city of Merano below as though we were flying over it. Seated on our terrace in an orchard of pear trees or walking through the area, we felt blessed. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the road to the village is called Heaven’s Way. This 12th century castle Tyrol is symbolic of the region.

A choice of hotels is long. I suggest Hotel Thurnergut on the south side of the hill between Dorf and Merano, surrounded by castles.

 Tel: 39 0473 443134 or E-Mail

The road north to the main route north is slow and winding but the view is rewarding and the distance short. You will soon be at the Brenner pass. This was heavily fortified by the Germans during the war. It is the lowest of the passes through the Alps at 1375 Metres. It is only 12 miles long, easy to cross into Austria an hour from Innsbruck.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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